Nearly everyone has moles to some extent, and they are more common in people with fair skin and those who have had prolonged exposure to the sun. Moles are just small collections of pigment on the surface of the skin, and are generally not dangerous or harmful in any way.
Patients are always being warned to monitor moles closely for signs of changes and in order to pick up anything that may look a bit different from the norm.Not all moles which look different from the others turn out to be malignant melanoma or skin cancer though; many turn out to be harmless atypical moles. It is important to know what these are so as not to confuse them with melanoma.
The medical name for an atypical mole is a dyplastic nevus. They are very common, and it is estimated that 1 in 10 of the population has at least one atypical mole. An atypical mole is different from a regular mole in that it is larger in size and not nearly as rounded and well defined. As one of the main signs of malignant melanoma is moles which are large and irregularly sized, it is easy to see how the two are confused. It is important to stress though that atypical moles are not cancerous and do not need to be removed.
Although atypical moles are themselves benign and not skin cancer, it is true to say that people with a large number of atypical moles are at a higher risk of developing malignant melanoma than people with fewer atypical moles. The higher the number of atypical moles, the greater the risk the patient has of developing skin cancer in the longer term. This is why many doctors refer to atypical moles as pre-cancerous moles. If a patient has a high number of these sorts of moles, monitoring them closely for any signs of further color changes, size changes, bleeding or itchiness is critically important. People who suffer from atypical moles should also exercise extra care when going out in the sun, preferably covering their moles with clothing and if this is not practical by always using a high factor sunscreen.
Melanoma which occurs in the eyes, or ocular melanoma, is very rare. However, rates of ocular melanoma are significantly higher in patients who have atypical moles than in the general population, and therefore if it is identified that you have some of these sorts of moles you should have your eyes examined regularly by a specialist to pick up quickly on any changes.
In most cases, no treatment of the atypical moles will be required; apart from close monitoring and checking all over the skin for any further changes that may indicate the moles have progressed to the cancerous stage. If there is any doubt about this, the doctors will perform a biopsy where some cells from the mole will be taken away for examination under a microscope. Depending on the results of the biopsy, the decision will be taken to either leave the mole alone or to remove it. If removal is recommended, this will be done surgically under local anesthetic. It is a quick and simple procedure and the patient will not need to stay in hospital for more than a couple of hours at the most. Even after the mole has been removed it is important to keep up the regime of examining your skin and protecting yourself when out and about in the sun as they can reoccur at any time.